While many Arabs do not believe in them, they are commonly mentioned in daily conversations.
You were probably eight years old and at a large gathering when you accidentally broke a glass cup.
As your mother raised the universal Arab hand gesture that, to the west, often means “perfect”, you heard an Arab aunt say “enkasar el shar”, which translates to “the evil is broken”.
The phrase probably stuck with you as you grew up, but what does it mean and is it true?
From broken glass to bird excretion, here are some common Arab myths tied to good fortune.
‘Enkasar el shar’
This saying is tied to any glass item that breaks. The phrase has been passed on from one Arab generation to another, with its origins not quite so clear.
One narrative that Arabs have circulated on social media points back to the Babylonian and Assyrian civilisations, where broken glass was perceived as a sign of good luck.
Within the same narrative, the first of July, “Tammuz” in the Babylonian calendar, is known as the day of “breaking the evil” or “kicking out the evil spirits”.
The reason behind it goes back to Tammuz, known by the Byblonians and Assyrians as the God of love, who landed from the sky on the first of July and married Ishtar, the queen of the heavens.
The marriage marked a new era and was a celebration of victory against the evil forces of the time. The occasion was widely celebrated by breaking dishes and vases.
To date, the tradition is marked by various Christian communities in Syria, primarily in Hasakah and Aleppo. It is also common among Armenians and even in Greece, although there – the smashing of dishes is a symbol of the end of life.
A tradition among the Greeks during wedding ceremonies was to smash dishes, in order to distract the evil spirits and trick them into thinking a sad event was taking place.
This one may be the strangest one yet, but a most interesting myth nonetheless.
A common myth tied to good fortune – emanates from bird droppings. While many Arabs do not actively believe in this myth, when a bird defecates on a person, their car or any of their properties, the common reaction is one that inspires hope in fortune of the bird’s victim.
It is unclear where or how the superstition started, but it has been attributed to birds being a symbol of peace.
The superstition is also tied to the birds’ behaviour of waking up everyday to search for food and gather material to build their nest for their families. Other places where the myth exists in daily conversations is Turkey.
Other places, such as in old British tales, bird droppings are believed to be a symbol of bad luck and a punishment. So—who’s to say?
If you are scratching your left palm right now, you might want to stop—but if the itch is in your right hand then it’s probably in your best interest to continue!
Another superstition about fortune and money loss is linked to one’s itchy palms.
The common belief is that if one scratches their left hand, they are about to lose money, whereas scratching their right hand suggests money is on the way.
According to Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah, the superstition is not limited to the Arab world but exists all over the world.
Its roots go back to Saxons and Celts in Europe during the pre-Christian era, where the former believed that rubbing one’s skin on silver cures most diseases. Through time, silver and itchy palms became a symbol of incoming wealth.
Beyond cultures however, medics worldwide disagree with the superstition and advise those struggling with continuous itching to seek medical help.
Have you ever tried making Turkish or Arabic coffee over the stove, blinked for a second and found it spilling all over the place? Rumour has it, you might be in luck!
Unless you’re on kitchen cleaning duty, common belief across the Middle East and Turkey states that spilling coffee while making it is a sign of good luck.
One rumour on its origins is that it comes from a palace in Egypt, where a servant named “Khair”, which translates to “good fortune” in Arabic, served coffee to the guests. One day, Khair spilled the coffee.
When the owner of the palace asked what happened, the response was, “Khair dala’a al qahwa”, translating to “Good fortune (Khair) spilled the coffee.”
As the servant aged, spilling coffee became a usual occurrence and so did the phrase “Khair spilled the coffee”, lending the belief that in bean beverage spillage – there is goodness and fortune.
Despite many Arabs not believing in the superstitions, the phrases and sayings influence daily conversations and culture over the breakfast table, in work meetings and in encountering friends.
So, the next time you spill your coffee or break your mother’s favourite vase, remember that common superstition has them as signs of good luck.